Rumor Mill: Dillon Wants To Retire?

Rumor and speculation have swirled around Corey Dillon and his future in New England. Some are reporting he's done as a Patriot while others take a wait and see approach. Patriots Insider examines what the future holds for this future hall of fame back and why the Patriots probably aren't expecting to get a new running back in 2007 to replace him.

He came to New England labeled a malcontent, a complainer, someone you wouldn't want on your team, especially one as team-oriented as the Patriots. He's been anything but a malcontent or the disruption many thought he would be. Dillon has become a true Patriot -- a selfless contributor willing to play whatever role the team deems appropriate. Yet, after three seasons, a Super Bowl win, a tough AFC Championship loss and a season that saw a new back sharing the load with him, all Corey Dillon wants is another year of the same.

Rumor and speculation regarding the future of the Patriots' single-season rushing record holder have sprouted with the popular theme being that 2006 might have been his last season as a Patriot. Reportedly Dillon told some players after the Patriots' crushing loss to the Colts that he was all done playing and his career was over. Yet a league source told and Patriots Insider that Dillon wasn't ready to call it quits. This was after the AFC Championship, and the reported comments that he might retire. The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle, Dillon is thinking about retirement, but isn't ready to call it quits just yet.

When running backs reach the age of 30, the prime of their career is well behind them and retirement assumed to be right around the corner. When backs are the feature back, like Dillon has been for so many years, the career is usually far shorter than most due to the inordinate beating their bodies take each week.

Perennial All-Pro Tiki Barber, who came into the league the same year as Dillon (1997), called it quits this year. In his 10 seasons, Barber managed 2,217 carries for 10,449 yards (4.7 avg.) with 55 touchdowns. Barber is considered a very good back and possible Hall of Famer, which indicates Dillon must be of similar value. His numbers are similar to Barber's. Dillon has 2,618 carries for 11,241 yards (4.3 avg.) and 82 touchdowns over that same period.

If Barber cited the wear and tear that an NFL season takes on his body as the main reason he wanted to walk away, then what has it done for Dillon who has a full season (400) of extra carries compared to Barber? The beating must be equal, although Dillon is built much differently than Barber. Dillon's physical nature has enabled him to persevere behind questionable lines and break arm tackles that stop less intimidating backs. Yardage after contact is a aspect of his game that has enabled him to vault up the list of top backs in NFL history.

New England Patriots' Corey Dillon (28) breaks a tackle by Buffalo Bills' Nate Clements (22) and scores Oct. 22, 2006. (AP Photo/David Duprey)

His Place In History

Dillon moved into 14th on the NFL's All Time rushing leader list in January 2007, passing O.J. Simpson of the Buffalo Bills. Simpson managed 11,236 yards on 2,404 carries and recorded 61 touchdowns while on his way to the Hall of Fame. The only active (possibly not for long) backs ahead of Dillon on the Top 20 backs list are Marshall Faulk who is ninth (12,279) and Curtis Martin who is fourth (14,101).

If Dillon is worried about his legacy, all he has to do is to look at the players ahead of him with only 10 seasons. Just two other hall of fame backs, Barry Sanders and Jim Brown, played for 10 seasons (or less) and have gained more yards. His legacy is intact, even if he does decide to retire.

Does He Want To Return?

The question that begs to be asked at this point is; Does Dillon want to return?

The short answer is yes, at least if you talk to his agent. A league source told during Senior Bowl that Dillon wants to play for "at least" one more season, possibly more. Nearly a week later, Dillon's agent reportedly said that his client was not considering retirement, and that his current deal was cap friendly so that he could play without costing the team much.

Cost vs Production

While Dillon's salary for 2007 is modest ($2.5 million) it's his cap charge that is the issue. It is estimated at nearly $4.4 million, a number that may be too high for the team's liking given Dillon's recent limited production and part-time status. Aging backs have been cut for less. Dillon's restructuring in 2006 was supposed to alleviate the pressure on him being released due to cap concerns. Apparently, that may not be the case.

The naysayers believe Dillon is too old, too slow, and too costly when other options are out there. That may be true to a degree. There are other backs that are younger, faster and less costly, but the Patriots already spent a First round Draft pick on Laurence Maroney in 2006 and were so offensively oriented in the Draft, it's unlikely they're going to spend another high pick on a back in 2007.

The team split the load between Dillon and Maroney in 2006, which went well with both backs adding a dimension the team needed. It was not the first year Dillon shared the load, carrying less than 300 times. Dillon managed roughly 770 yards each of the past two seasons on roughly 200 carries per season. He also scored an average of 12 touchdowns (TDs) and 50 first downs (FDs) per season which is where his real value lies.

Comparisons to Others

Deuce McAllister of the New Orleans Saints dives for a score against the Eagles. (AP Photo)

As for too costly, compare Dillon to other part time backs with similar production, backs whom a coach wouldn't hesitate to give the ball to in crucial short-yardage situations. One that comes to mind is New Orleans' Deuce McAllister who signed a $ $50.1 million contract extension in 2005.

McAllister is 28: His 2007 salary is $2.6 million. In 2006 his production amounted to 244 carries for 1,057 yards 10 TDs 54 FDs. McAllister was the featured back for the Saints while Reggie Bush was the change of pace back.

Sure there are less expensive youngsters, but they don't exactly instill confidence in crucial situations like Dillon does. Two who jump out as having similar stats as Dillon are Marion Barber of the Dallas Cowboys and Brandon Jacobs of the New York Giants.

Marion Barber Age 23 2007 Salary $435,000 2006 production: 135 carries 634 yards 14 TDs 46 FDs
Brandon Jacobs Age 24 2007 salary $ 435,000 2006 production: 96 carries 423 yards , 9 TDs, 33FDs

Both players split time with other backs in their respective offenses; Barber with Julius Jones and Jacobs with Tiki Barber. Even former league MVP Shaun Alexander had little more production than Dillon in 2006. Alexander had 252 carries for 896 yards, 7 TDs and 53 FDs. That price tag for that production in 10 games came with a of $62 million 8-year deal the Seahawks gave to Alexander in March of 2006.

Is He Worth It?

Looking at the cost of the youngsters Barber and Jacobs (with deals less than $ 1million) compared to deals from Alexander and McAllister, Dillon's worth probably lies somewhere in the middle, which is very close to where his salary lies now. Assuming he can play for another season at his current level of production, those 13 TDs and 50FDs will go a long way to putting New England back in the playoffs for a league high 5th season in a row in 2007.

Considering the Patriots have $26.6 Million in cap space (already including Dillon's cap hit), why not keep him - a known quantity - on the roster and use the money to bring in some players on defense? It wasn't Dillon's 35-yard blast off the right side that lost the Patriots the AFC Championship game, it was a worn out defense that showed all the signs of neglect in past Drafts and a failure to compensate for injuries.

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